Applying a "Whole School" Approach to Preventing Violence
On one of the routine site visits to talk to teachers about the progress they are making in implementing violence prevention plans, there is a competitive, yet supportive, spirit among the “Team for Non-Violent Behaviour” at Skopje’s “Dimo Hadji Dimov” Primary School. As Violeta Gorgieva, the school psychologist, talks about the self-assessment, and the school policy and plan, other team members can’t wait to share examples of how they are integrating non-violence and promoting positive behaviour in their every day classroom settings.
“In my Macedonian language class we did an assignment on what would it be like if we re-wrote history in a way that the issue was resolved in a non-violent way,” says teacher, Marjan Kostovski. “I held a class on how to identify different emotions, how to channel aggression and how to resolve conflict using non-violent methods,” says school pedagogue, Milka Ivanovska. “We noticed children posting insulting messages on other children’s Facebook profiles, so in my class dedicated to learning Power Point, I had children develop presentations on cyber bullying,” continued Magdalena Mojsovska.
Setting up the “Team for Non-Violent Behaviour” – made up of teachers, the school psychologist, pedagogue, and principal - was one of the first actions taken to lead school action to reduce and prevent the continuing physical and psychological violence at Dimo Hadji Dimov.
While proud of their efforts, the team recognises that they have much more to do before they can say that their school is a “Violence free School”,
UNICEF, with the financial support from IKEA and other donors, developed a package of system wide interventions to make schools safe and protective environments where children thrive.
While noting that effective prevention and reduction plans call for multi-stakeholder responses, schools were identified as central to driving change among teachers, children, parents and the local community.
After participating in training on violence reduction and prevention, and with ongoing support from a team of cascade training facilitators, the team at Dimo Hadji Dimov and 21 other primary schools in the country rolling out a “whole school approach” to responding to violence in their communities.
The principals being built into the school action are built on volumes of studies showing that punishment is not effective in reducing violence, and that the most successful strategies are those that focus on building a positive culture in school.
Often the parents demand that schools increase surveillance to protect their children, however these measures are not producing long-term solutions.
While “Dimo Hadji Dimov” have engaged a security guard as part of their initial response, the team recognises that this is only a short term “band aid” response, and that rewarding good behaviour and promoting tolerance, respect and dialog are by far more effective ways of preventing violence from occurring.
Teachers find the training extremely useful, and, they are grateful for the ongoing supported given during the site visits from international and local training facilitators, and representatives from the Bureau of Education Development and are sharing experiences with their peers in other schools through an online community of practice.
The school’s psychology, Ms. Gorgieva, also notes that the Life Skills Education curricular has been a great resource for integrating the principals in every day classroom settings. “We find that when we talk about violence and non-violent behaviour in isolation it doesn’t mean as much as when we talk about it context - it’s the little things that teachers are integrating in every day classes settings that is having the biggest impact.” continues Gorgieva.
As of May 2011, the cascade training of 120 new primary schools is underway, and it is expected that the programme will be rolled out to all primary schools by the end of the 2011-2012 school year.
….and promoting meaningful parental involvement.
Despite having spent an hour and a half talking about the great things the school is achieving, the “Team for Non-Violence Behaviour” believes they have only just started to scratch at the surface.
But, they are already starting to see impact. “Parents of previously disruptive children have told us that they notice a positive change in their child’s behaviour.” “We see children who were previously isolated are now being accepted by their peers.”
The team tells how their colleagues are forever grateful that they now have an expert term – specialized reference group - that they can consult. What the team really needs, says teacher Irena Baliovska and her peers, is ongoing support so that that we can continue the momentum.
While proud that they have had little resistance from their other colleagues in implementing the programme, they acknowledge it is sometimes hard for teachers to accept that “verbal aggression” should not be used as a way to get children to behave.
“We have to understand that teachers are also human and sometimes find it difficult to control their own frustration and emotions, particularly in large classrooms,” say Ms Gorgieva. With a level of optimism that all her colleagues will one day live and breathe the principals of behaviour for learning, Ms. Baliovska, goes on to say “But, as a team we recognize that professionalism is developed based on learning from our own mistakes.”
Like other schools in the programme, the team at “Dino Hadji Dimov” is looking at ways of engaging parents in a meaningful way to leverage and ensure consistency of support to children at home and in the family. While they are encouraged by the engagement of selected individual parents, they note that more parents need to be involved in the whole school approach.
“We are very lucky to have one parent who works in a non-government organisation agree to help us hold some round table discussions with parents on non-violence”, says teacher Irena Baliovska. However, a lingering problem remains the need to get more parents engaged in a meaningful way. “Even when we asked parents to complete an anonymous questionnaire, many of them left had some of the questions unanswered,” says Ms. Gorgieva. However, the school has a plan on how to move forward. They plan to present - what they call - their “modest” policy and seek feedback during the round table discussion and with the parent’s council.
With UNICEF’s help, the “Team for Non-Violent Behaviour” is optimistic that the day will soon come when they can finally cancel the contract with the security company they half-heartedly engaged in their initial attempt to deter violence and protect school property.